Mass. senator backs exemption to HHS mandate in radio ads

Sen Scott Brown R MA CNA US Catholic News 2 28 12 Senator Scott Brown

U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has launched a radio ad that stresses his support for a conscience exemption to the HHS mandate and argues that the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy would have supported the exemption.

The ad campaign began across Massachusetts Feb. 23.

“Religious freedom has always been one of our most precious rights. It's what brought the Pilgrims to our shores hundreds of years ago - so they could freely practice their faith,” Sen. Brown says in the ad. “That's why I'm concerned about a new federal mandate forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against the teachings of their church.”

Brown said the requirement contradicts American values of religious tolerance.

“Like Ted Kennedy before me, I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith. I believe it’s possible to provide people with access to the health care they want, while at the same time protecting the rights of Americans to follow their religious beliefs.”

Brown characterized the exemption as “a matter of fundamental fairness” that should be provided to all Americans of every party and faith.

The ad did not mention specific legislation. However, Brown has backed the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Brown’s staff has pointed to the example of unsuccessful 1997 health insurance legislation drafted by Sen. Kennedy. The bill said that health insurance issuers may inform enrollees of coverage limitations based on the “religious or moral convictions” of the issuer.

But a former Kennedy staffer challenged that interpretation, telling the Massachusetts newspaper The Republican that the bill did not mandate any benefits and was not meant to endorse such exemptions.
Brown has also cited 1995 legislation sponsored by Kennedy which included a provision preventing a doctor or hospital from being forced to perform a procedure in violation of their personal beliefs.

The senator says his evidence includes a letter from Kennedy to the Pope.

In a 2009 letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Sen. Kennedy said, “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.”

Sen. Kennedy’s son, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, has asked that the ad be pulled. He said that his father agreed that health care providers like doctors and hospitals should be allowed a conscience exemption for performing any service. But his father would have opposed the Blunt amendment, he said.

Brown said Feb. 27 he would not be pressured into pulling the ad, the Associated Press reports.

The Republican’s chief Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, has also called for Brown to take down the ad.

Warren said the amendment would create a hole in health care coverage and could result in women being denied “preventive health care” for any reason. An ad from her campaign contends the amendment could threaten women’s access to contraception and basic health services such as mammograms and maternity care.

Brown said Warren’s concerns are “red herrings.”

The Department of Health and Human Services mandate, finalized on Jan. 20, would require all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs, as part of “preventive care.”

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Catholic leaders and many others have opposed the mandate on the grounds that it violates religious liberty by forcing religious institutions and employers to pay for procedures and drugs whose use they consider sinful.

Though the Obama administration proposed a reputed compromise on Feb. 10, opponents charge that the move is an “accounting trick” that does not address the basic objections.

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